Mind What You Wear

Posted by Jill Chivers in Helpful Books and Resources

Mind What You Wear - cover

Professor Karen Pine has given us a wonderful gift in her thoughtful short book, Mind What You Wear.  This book draws together psychology and fashion, and references a number of studies that illustrate the impact that clothing has on how we think and what we feel.

I’ve been fascinated by fashion (well style, more so than fashion – you know I believe there’s a chasm between the two!) and psychology, identity,  what makes people tick and do the things they do, and how they see themselves for decades now.   So to discover this book was a real delight for me.


Clothes will change your life

Professor Pine starts the book by telling us a story about a woman whose hat changed her life.  This hat, a radical purchase for her – quite a departure from her usual staid fashion fare, turned her into someone else.  And it was this hat-wearing someone else that caught the eye of a man at a party, who felt compelled to know her.  And eventually marry her.  Professor Pine tell us that “that hat… started a whole chain of dynamic and transformational events”.

Clothes and self concept

Professor Pine talks often throughout the book about how it is our relationship to ourselves that is most transformed by clothing.  I was especially pleased to hear this, as it’s the opposite end of the scale to the old Dress For Success message which purports that we should dress in a certain way to impress other people in a certain way.  Whilst there’s no doubt that our clothing choices impact others – they think and feel certain things about us based on what our clothing choices signify to them — the idea of power dressing is one I wasn’t seeking to explore by reading this book.

What I found of most interest were the numerous studies and commentary made by Professor Pine about how our clothing impacts how we feel about, what we think about, and how we experience ourselves and our lives.

These studies fascinated me:

  • women do worse in maths when wearing swimsuits than when they are wearing regular clothing
  • people are more likely to describe themselves as ‘neat and strategic’ when wearing formal clothing
  • study participants make quicker decisions and fewer mistakes when wearing white lab coats
  • students wearing t-shirts with the Superman emblem on the front felt superior to students wearing regular clothing or plain t-shirts
  • in highly controversial studies, participants wearing hoods and capes behaved more cruelly than those without
  • women are ten times more likely to put on a favourite dress when happy than depressed

Read the book yourself to get the full context of these intriguing studies and findings!

Clothes and confidence

Clothing choices have a monumental impact on how confident we feel.  They are not just pieces of cloth with zippers or buttons and seams.  Clothes have a direct correlation to our confidence.   Professor Pine discusses how clothing influences our mood, and she shares the results of a study of 400 people who shared their top reasons for dressing up.  I loved this!

73% of people get dressed up to feel more confident

The next two top reasons were to be comfortable and to express themselves.

All of these are internal reasons for making an effort in clothing choices and outfit creation.  They are not about dressing to impress others or to influence others opinion.  These reasons are subjective and self-directed.

Their criterion is an internal one – how do I feel wearing this?  Not: what will others think if I wear this?

A world of difference between the two.

I have talked on this blog about this same topic – dressing for self-expression, dressing to create or sustain a certain internal feeling state (“how does THIS make you feel?”).  And to paying attention to how certain items make you feel so you keep doing the things that are working, stop doing the things that are not, and adjust the things that need tweaking.

self confidence is the best outfit quote

Clothes and mood

Professor Pine has a whole section about the impact of clothing on mood and how clothes and depression may be related.  She cites some studies where researchers explored the relationship between depression and unkempt appearance.  I’ve heard of this connection before, and have had many an interesting conversation – over lunches and glasses of wine, at workshops – about how clothing can be used to both gauge and change one’s mood.

There’s an interesting section on how what you wear mirrors your mental state, and how clothing can be used to both signal our mood and mental state, and manage or change it.

I’ve played around with this concept myself – if I’m feeling a bit low and want to lift my mood (which is a choice – perhaps I want to luxuriate in my misery instead), I play around with the idea of how wearing this dress instead of that outfit will help me feel better, even if it’s just by a little bit.  It’s also something we explore in Week 12 of the My Year Without Clothes Shopping program, when we look at clothing and personality.

 Clothes and happiness

For regular readers, you’ll know that I’m currently intrigued by happiness and am exploring happiness, and what it means to be happy more of the time.

So I was intrigued by the list of 10 clothing items and ensembles that Professor Pine proposes as being “happy clothes” (or “happy outfits” as many of them are about combinations, not individual items).

You can read these ten items in Professor Pine’s Huffington Post article, and it’s also the basis of an intriguing program Professor Pine has created with colleagues on doing something different.

I thought it would be a fun exploration to see how many of these ten creations I had explored in the last few years.  And to ask myself whether I did in fact feel happier, and think happier, when wearing these ten happy items/outfits.  So I set about finding pictures of me wearing my own version of these ten, and amazingly, I found them!  These images span about ten years as you can probably tell from my hair styles!

My 10 “happy outfits/items”

Here is a collage of me in the top ten happy clothes/outfits Professor Pine proposes we try out:

"Happy" clothes and ensembles

“Happy” clothes and ensembles

Summing up

I definitely recommend you get your own copy of  Mind What You Wear.  Keep an open mind and read it with the lens of what’s new? what don’t I know already? what is fascinating or surprising in what I’m reading? what can I do with this information?  I can almost guarantee your reading experience will be richer if you ask yourself those types of questions as you explore the content so carefully crafted by Professor Pine.

Clothes are an important part of the experience of life.  Clothes do impact how we feel about ourselves, and they impact others experience of us, too.

That all said, clothing and outfit choice don’t happen in a vacuum, separate from other elements of your life and how you’re experiencing your life.

When I consider the ten happy outfits/items above, some of them made me feel, and think, happy, and others not so much.  What I’m wearing is one element of my day’s experience, which includes many other important things:

  • my internal state of mind and the thoughts I’m thinking and how conscious I am of them
  • the feelings that I’m experiencing and what I’m making them mean
  • whether I’m feeling in flow and a state of allowing or if I’m feeling stuck and like I need to control things
  • my physical state, how my body is feeling and how I’m experiencing my body
  • what’s happening around me – what’s going on, who’s there, what’s been done and said (and what’s not being done and not being said)

Clothes and clothing choices are fascinating.  They’re important. 

And they aren’t the whole story.

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